Experience Scottsdale, or Else

High on my list of Things That Annoy Me is the ongoing trend in “rebranding” stuff. I’m suspicious of the idea of changing the name or the look of something and claiming it’s somehow substantially different. It seems sneaky and disingenuous, like when KISS and Dolly Parton made disco records in the late 1970s.

But my disdain will not stop the universe from reordering itself, or at least pretending to. It was recently brought to my attention that the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau has rebranded itself. It will now be known as Experience Scottsdale, a name that wants an exclamation point but offers instead a lot of lame excuses, courtesy of the bureau’s (oops — I mean the Experience’s!) charming press flack, Rachel Sacco.

“Typically, convention bureaus target individual travelers, meeting groups, and conventioneers,” Sacco told me when I called to poke around. Scottsdale welcomes about 9 million visitors annually; last year, the city helped book more than 500 meetings via travel agencies and tour operators.

Apparently, that wasn’t enough. A new name and outlook would change that. Besides, the name Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau was fusty and out-of-date.

“We knew it was time to take a look at how people envisioned Scottsdale,” Sacco explained. She lived in Scottsdale when she was quite young, and remembers walking to the Sugar Bowl for ice cream. She later moved to Arkansas, but came back to the Valley to attend ASU. “We learned there are misperceptions about Scottsdale, things that weren’t getting people to book trips here.”

Sacco and her colleagues were stunned by the results of a survey of potential visitors to Scottsdale. “People thought we had nothing to do, no good restaurants,” she told me. “No activities or events, no nightlife.” Yet Scottsdale has hosted more than one Super Bowl, she insisted. “We have the Waste Management Open, great art galleries, golfing, culture, a culinary scene. People come here and say, ‘I can’t believe how much there is to do here!’ But if you haven’t been here, you don’t know.”

Fair enough. But will changing the bureau’s name do something to get more people to Scottsdale, where they’ll discover how groovy it is? Sacco sort of seemed to think so.

“We felt the new name gave us a lot more to talk about,” is how she explained it. “When people describe what they want out of travel, the word ‘experience’ comes up a lot. Experience Scottsdale gives audiences a sense of place.”

Actually, it gives them a command. It’s a name that seems kind of pushy and demanding. Which apparently is okay, because bossing people around about where they should vacation is the latest trend in visitor bureaus.

“We were one of the few holdouts in the country, still using that old type of name,” Sacco said. “Everyone else had names like Choose Chicago or Visit Phoenix. People don’t understand what the word ‘bureau’ means, it sounds like a government agency. The word ‘convention’ tells people we are a convention center. We’re not.”

And so, the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau changed its name to Experience Scottsdale, because ordering people around is the new cool way to get people to come see you and find out they like you more than they thought they would. Or, as my mother used to say to me, "If everyone were jumping off a bridge, would you do it, too?"

Apparently, yes. If that bridge were located in Scottsdale.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela